Rita's Mexican Kitchen
405 N. Union Blvd., 667-7268
If my subpar Spanish abilities serve me correctly, then I understand that Rita Real has operated this business in various locations locally over the last 17 years. Three-and-a-half of them have been at this low-ceilinged, clean spot with cute grass-and-sky-landscape wallpaper and a bright picture menu above a tiny kitchen window.
Her tacos (three for $6) are of the food-truck variety (but with a hard-shell option), and are uniformly dry. My al pastor (pork), chicken and asada (beef) weren't vastly distinguishable spice-wise, either, and were in need of topping-and-sauce help. The smothered mole chicken and rice burrito ($7.25) is, by contrast, plenty wet and overall contenting in girth and flavor. Though good, the mole isn't complex or chocolatey, but somewhat one-note with a mild, earthy chile flavor. — Matthew Schniper
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
1075 E. 20th St., Chico, Calif., sierranevada.com
The seasonal Beer Camp Series ($16.29/mixed 12-pack) from sustainability-minded Sierra Nevada features four beers that were literally created at their beer camp for annual contest winners. (See its website for more on that.) This year, there's an Imperial Red Ale, Floral IPA, Imperial Pilsner and Oatmeal Stout.
While all are good in their own way, I especially enjoyed the crisp Imperial Pilsner. The genre often can overwhelm the senses with a strong, bitter hop profile, but Sierra Nevada's Imperial takes a more delicate approach while still showcasing the clean, crisp flavor of the Crystal and Pacifica hops. The Oatmeal Stout is the one beer in the mixer to bring forth a smooth, full malt, as opposed to hoppy crispness, making this almost-sweet, dry stout an excellent après-dinner sipper. — Steve Hitchcock
5320 N. Nevada Ave., #100, 219-0500, smashburger.com
It is a falsehood universally repeated that searing your hamburgers locks in the juices, so here's the deal: Searing your hamburgers does awesome things to the sugars and acids in the meat, changing them into something else altogether, via something called the Maillard reaction. But it doesn't keep in the natural liquids, as Smashburger claims. In fact, if you're hopping on your patties while they cook, you're squishing out all the good stuff.
Regardless, the Denver chain's Colorado burger ($6.99) is good. On a soft, dark bun comes a dripping, partially pink meat patty piled with oozing cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, lettuce, tomato, gentle green chiles and more salty goo than the thin wrapper at the bottom could handle. I actually felt sorry for it. With crispy rosemary-garlic fries ($1.99) and a drink, the meal will run you more than a 10-spot, but it might be the only thing you'll need to eat all day. — Bryce Crawford